It’s that time again. Time for my list of top five debut novels coming out in May/June. This month we have a diverse group of books ranging from historical fiction, to fantasy, to a cross-cultural story of immigration and displacement, and finally, a genre-bending graphic novel. Hopefully you’ll discover something new to add to your reading list this month. Happy reading and happy writing!
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani
A lush, sexy, evocative debut novel of family secrets and girls’-school rituals, set in the 1930s South. It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.
Weaving provocatively between home and school, the narrative powerfully unfurls the true story behind Thea’s expulsion from her family, but it isn’t long before the mystery of her past is rivaled by the question of how it will shape her future. Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner—a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression—and the major debut of an important new writer.
Named a most anticipated book for Summer 2013 by The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly
The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom
One of the most powerful and impressive debuts Grove/Atlantic has ever published, The Blood of Heaven is an epic novel about the American frontier in the early days of the nineteenth century. Its twenty-six-year-old author, Kent Wascom, was awarded the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for fiction, and this first novel shows the kind of talent rarely seen in any novelist, no matter their age.
The Blood of Heaven is the story of Angel Woolsack, a preacher’s son, who flees the hardscrabble life of his itinerant father, falls in with a charismatic highwayman, then settles with his adopted brothers on the rough frontier of West Florida, where American settlers are carving their place out of lands held by the Spaniards and the French. The novel moves from the bordellos of Natchez, where Angel meets his love Red Kate to the Mississippi River plantations, where the brutal system of slave labor is creating fantastic wealth along with terrible suffering, and finally to the back rooms of New Orleans among schemers, dreamers, and would-be revolutionaries plotting to break away from the young United States and create a new country under the leadership of the renegade founding father Aaron Burr.
The Blood of Heaven is a remarkable portrait of a young man seizing his place in a violent new world, a moving love story, and a vivid tale of ambition and political machinations that brilliantly captures the energy and wildness of a young America where anything was possible. It is a startling debut.
The Oathbreaker’s Shadow by Amy McCulloch
In the world of fifteen-year-old Raim, you tie a knot for every promise you make. Break that promise and the knot will burst into flames, scarring your skin and forever marking you as an oathbreaker. Raim has worn a simple knot around his wrist for as long as he can remember. No one seems to know where it came from or which promise it symbolizes, and Raim barely thinks about it at all–especially not since he became the most promising young fighter ever to train for the elite Yun guard. But on the day that he binds his life to that of his best friend (and the future king), Khareh, the rope ignites and sears a dark mark into his skin. Scarred now as an oathbreaker, Raim has two options: run or be killed. He chooses to run, taking refuge in the vast desert among a colony of exiled oathbreakers. Will he be able to learn the skills he needs to clear his name? And even if he can, how can he keep a promise he never knew he made in the first place?
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
Darling is only 10 years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.
But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her–from Zadie Smith to Monica Ali to J.M. Coetzee–while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own.
New School by Dash Shaw (Note: This is not a debut novel. Shaw wrote Bottomless Belly Button and BodyWorld. Just a June release that I’m excited to read.)
In Dash Shaw’s new, full-color original graphic novel, a boy goes to seek his brother on a theme-park island.
In this brand new graphic novel from the acclaimed author of Bottomless Belly Button and BodyWorld, Dash Shaw dramatizes the story of a boy moving to an exotic country and his infatuation with an unfamiliar culture that quickly shifts to disillusionment. A sense of “being different” grows to alienation, until he angrily blames this once-enchanting land for his feelings of isolation. All of this is told through the fantastical eyes of young Danny, a boy growing up in the ’90s fed on dramatic adventure stories like Jurassic Park and X-Men. Danny’s older brother, Luke, travels to a remote island to teach English to the employees of ClockWorld, an ambitious new amusement park that recreates historical events. When Luke doesn’t return after two years, Danny travels to ClockWorld to convince Luke to return to America. But Luke has made a new life, new family, and even a new personality for himself on ClockWorld, rendering him almost unrecognizable to his own brother. Danny comes of age as he explores the island, ClockWorld, and fights to bring his brother home. New School is unlike anything in the history of the comics medium: at once funny and deadly serious, easily readable while wildly artistic, personal and political, familiar and completely new. Full-color illustrations throughout